Gun Digest Interview: Tim Abell

Gun Digest Interview: Tim Abell
Tim Abell poses with his freshly harvested gobbler.
Tim Abell poses with his freshly harvested gobbler.
Tim Abell poses with his freshly harvested gobbler.

Actors who hunt and shoot usually keep quiet about doing so; afraid their careers might take a beating at the hands of an anti-gun, ultra-liberal Hollywood. And then there’s Tim Abell, actor, hunter, former U.S. Army Ranger and host of the popular outdoors television series Federal Premium Ammunition's Grateful Nation. A hunter and shooter since childhood, Abell’s done more than 60 movie and television roles, including playing Frank James in the 2010 movie, American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James, where he shared top billing with Peter Fonda. Abell, 54, is also a firearms history buff, with ancestors who served in World War I and the Civil War. In fact, he has a .32-caliber Moore rimfire revolver that belonged to his great, great grandfather, a sharecropper who served in the Confederate Army’s 49th Virginia Infantry.

How did firearms become a part of your life?

My love of hunting and guns started with my uncle, Bruce King. My dad’s passion was fishing, and I did a lot of that, too, but it was Bruce who took me hunting. He became my mentor in a lot of ways, taught me a lot of woodsmanship skills, and a lot about being a man. He took me whitetail and turkey and raccoon hunting…but I didn’t get to carry a gun until he thought I was ready for it.

Sounds like a great childhood.

My friends and I used to walk down the street with our shotguns over our shoulders. Walk a mile or so down the street to the places we’d hunt. Today, if you tried that? Someone would call the police, get the SWAT Team out. It’s sad, really, how much some things have changed.

What was your first gun?

My very first was a single-barrel H&R shotgun, 12 gauge. My grandfather gave me and my brother each a gun—I must’ve been eight years old or so. When I was 12 years old, I’d saved up enough money and bought a Remington 870 shotgun. I took so many deer with that gun.

Why did you enlist for the Rangers?

My granddad was in the First World War, and I knew about that, saw pictures of him in uniform. As a kid, I read a lot of biographies about people like General Eisenhower. And then I read Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets. That was it. I wanted to do something like that. When the Army recruiters came to our high school, they said, Learn a trade, work with aircraft, things like that. I told them, No thanks—I want to be a Special Forces guy. At the time, they didn’t have any slots open for Special Forces. The Rangers had openings. So I signed up.

What was your experience like as an Army Ranger?

The training was very difficult, of course. But once I got out of Ranger training and went to my Ranger Battalion? They put us through two weeks of Ranger Indoctrination Program, to weed out the guys who shouldn’t be there. That was probably the hardest thing I ever did. The road marches at the end of it were so difficult and grueling. But we just powered through the pain. Ranger Up!

So after your service….?

I headed to California, wanted to be an actor. Struggled, but learned a lot, got some smaller roles and they eventually led to bigger ones.

But you’re a hunter and a shooter and a veteran—trying to make it in Hollywood?

Has it hurt my career? I know I’ve lost an acting job or two because I love to hunt and shoot and am not shy about it. I had a casting director admit it to me once. He said, “you make me so mad, killing animals.” He made it clear I would’ve had a role on his project if it wasn’t for my hunting. But I listened to John Milius. He’s a friend, as well as a writer and director [Milius’ script credits include Apocalypse Now and Jeremiah Johnson; he’s directed several films including 1973’s Dillinger]. John said, Look, Tim, you have to be who you are. It’s not going to work otherwise.

Is it hard being a pro-Second Amendment advocate in La-La Land?

The hypocrisy of it all gets to me sometimes. Here you have a guy like Jamie Foxx saying, “We need to follow what our President says and get rid of all the guns.” And he’s starring in Django Unchained, one of the most violent films of all time. People don’t see the hypocrisy in all that?

How did Federal Premium Ammunition's Grateful Nation come to you?

Actually, it started years before. The outdoors and hunting show, The Federal Experience, was looking for an actor who liked to hunt and shoot and wasn’t afraid to say it. So I tried out and got the job as host. Later, I was at the NRA Convention and I met up with a wounded veteran who had an idea for a show where we’d take other wounded vets on hunts. It was a great idea, but he couldn’t do it. But Mark DeYoung at ATK (parent company of Federal) and some other people heard this veteran speak and they were really moved by it. I really have to credit Mark DeYoung and ATK. He got behind the idea and the show, and it’s because of their sponsorship that it exists today.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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